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Johnnie Walker Golfer of the Month award goes to Olazabal

Lisbon, Portugal, 16th March -Jose Maria Olazabal's magnificent return to competitive golf after 18 months absence has earned him the Johnnie Walker Golfer of the Month Award for February.

He was named winner for his incredible efforts in the Dubai Desert Classic, his comeback tournament, when he scored rounds of 69, 74, 65, 71 to finish in joint 12th position out of a top class field.

Olazabal, the 1994 US Masters champion had not played in a tournament since the Trophee Lancome n September 1995 after he contracted what was diagnosed to be rheumatoid arthritis. He feared he might never play golf again but after lengthy treatment and great patience he chose the Dubia Desert Classic for his return and played seven rounds in seven days. "I was surprised how well I played and score three round under par over the Emirates golf course was very good," he said. "I received a very nice welcome back to the European Tour from everybody and now to be given the Johnnie Walker Golfer of the Month Award pleases me very much."

The 31 year-old Spaniard earned £1,000 for the PGA European Tour Benevolent Trust and £1,000 for the Golf Foundation. He receives personally a Golf Ball decanter by Garrod, the Crown Jewellers.

A panel form the Association of Golf Writers met with European Tour representatives and award sponsors Johnnie Walker during the Portuguese Open. Although February is the shortest month, it provided an impressive choice of candidates for the Award, among them Jose Maria, Nick Faldo, who won the Nissan Los Angeles Open by three strokes, and Australian Richard Green, who won the Dubai Desert Classic in a play-off with world No 1, Greg Norman and former world No 1, Ian Woosnam.

All three were worth candidates for superb achievements but in the end the vote went in favour of Jose Maria, not just for his courage in difficult times but demonstrating that his long lay-off from the game had not diminished his great golfing skills.